Forza Horizon 2 starts with a bang, placing you behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Huracán just coming off the boat for the Horizon Festival. There’s no tutorial, no boring introductory sequence, nothing that gets in your way. After a brief introduction, it’s just you, eleven other drivers, and a drive to the festival. It’s not a race, per se, but you wouldn’t want to get there last, now would you?
As any regular reader of GamingBolt will tell you, I’m not a big fan of realistic racing games, but as I drove through Horizon’s incredible environments in my supercar, the sounds of Eric Prydz’s “Liberate” pounding infectiously through my speakers, I began to realize something. It might have been the feel of the road under my car, the absolutely beautiful scenery passing by, the thrill of the competition, or even the music, but whatever it was, I was certain of one thing: there’s something special about Forza Horizon 2.
This time, the Horizon Festival, billed as a fusion of music and motorsport, takes place in Europe, specifically the border of France and Italy. This is the open world that games like Burnout Paradise could have only dreamed of having a few years ago: winding hills, open fields, exciting urban areas, and sun-kissed, curving roads. The game will often require you to go off-road, and Horizon is at its best when you’re launching your auto off of hills and landing in open fields, churning up dirt and knocking down fences as you go. These moments are the ones that’ll you’ll remember when all’s said and done, and they capture the fantasy of driving, and the feeling of runaway exuberance that comes with it, better than any other racing game I’ve played.
"Forza Horizon 2 may be built on Forza 5’s engine, but this game is definitely more of an arcade racer than a sim. After all, you usually won’t be racing on a track. Still, all of the cars you’ll interact with handle differently, even those that fall within the same class.
If the game’s world has any issues, it’s that it sometimes throws a few too many obstacles at you. Horizon is one of those games that encourages you to take a hill at full speed and punishes you for it with a well placed fence or group of trees just beyond it. It’s not a game breaking thing, but it seems at odds with Horizon’s focus on providing an exultant trip around the spectacular countryside. Even when this isn’t an issue, however, you don’t want to get too distracted by the scenery. You’ve got a job to do. After your initial run, you’ll be given three cars to choose from and asked to win various races and special events as part of championships based on the class of your car. Win enough class championships, and you’ll be crowned the Horizon Champion.
The events that will capture your mind are usually the ones that provide a route that takes full advantage of Horizon’s unique environments, but the side content scattered throughout Horizon doesn’t disappoint, either. You’ll be tasked with posting ridiculous numbers through speed traps, or posting a high average speed between specific roads, and even taking specific cars through a series of unique challenges in a mode that Horizon calls The Bucket List. The game also encourages you to explore, offering experience rewards for smashing destructible boards, rare cars to find, and even impromptu races, challenges, car meets, and road trips. There are even special events that will task you with racing against jets or a train, requiring equal willingness to go hell-for-leather and the ability to control your car around tight turns.
And the ability to control your car is important. Forza Horizon 2 may be built on Forza 5’s engine, but this game is definitely more of an arcade racer than a sim. After all, you usually won’t be racing on a track. Still, all of the cars you’ll interact with handle differently, even those that fall within the same class. The Camaro SS and Firebird Trans Am are both American muscle cars, and often share the same chassis and body style, but they couldn’t be more different. The Camaro trades pure speed for superior handling, while the Firebird has balances more pickup with its nasty habit of oversteering.
"he level of customization is insane. I, for instance, turned my 1977 Firebird Trans Am from a class D (not that hot) car to a class S1 (pretty friggin’ good) just by upgrading the basic parts that came standard in the car. Then I dropped in a new engine.
Regardless of where you go or what you drive, however, racing, and how well you do it, is the name of the game. Entering and winning events, and driving skillfully, earns experience points, as well as credits. Experience points earn skills for your driver, which usually present themselves as passive bonuses. The system is nice, but it’s rather underdeveloped and unnecessary, and you’ll often forget about it entirely until you unlock a new perk. The best part of leveling up is that you earn a spin of Horizon’s prize wheel, which can win you anything from a few thousand credits to A BRAND NEW CAR. You heard me right: A BRAND NEW CAR!
Ahem… sorry. Anyway, you’ll be spending credits on new cars and upgrades to your current rides. The level of customization is insane. I, for instance, turned my 1977 Firebird Trans Am from a class D (not that hot) car to a class S1 (pretty friggin’ good) just by upgrading the basic parts that came standard in the car. Then I dropped in a new engine. By the time I was done, my old Firebird was capable of blowing out supercars. There’s even an auto upgrade option for those who don’t wish to do as much tweaking. Enthusiasts will be happy to know that the game allows you to tune individual parts for peak performance, though it’s not necessary if driving is all you’re interested in.
Speaking of driving, the opponents you’ll face are Forza’s much touted “Drivatars,” virtual representations of other players who appear in the game world even when these players aren’t online. It’s a nice touch that adds a sense of realism and accomplishment to each race, and it’s fun wiping the floor with a couple of your friends, even when they’re not there to watch you do it. Of course, there’s traditional multiplayer, too. You can go to car meets, swap rides and paint jobs, go on road trips, enter a free mode together, play a traditional race, or engage in a friendly game of tag in two-ton supercars, which Forza Horizon 2 accurately labels “King.”
"It feels like the kind of game Microsoft has been trying to make for years, one that finds success in its mechanics, but is defined by its community, one less a collection of random players, and more a club of enthusiasts.
Since the festival itself is about the fusion of music and autos, it makes sense that Horizon 2’s soundtrack is exceptional in its own right. The game features a number of radio stations that offer a wide variety of music, and each one fits in well with the game’s vibe, as well as the scenery. I even found myself enjoying musical styles I’m not normally a fan of as I flipped through the stations, largely because of how well the song choices sync up with the action on-screen. Needless to say, you won’t need to bring your own tunes on this one.
For all of Forza Horizon 2’s accomplishments – the gorgeous game world, dynamic weather, incredibly diverse list of cars, wonderful handling mechanics, excellent song choice, fantastic assortment of extra content, extensive multiplayer options, the sheer joy of a race well driven – the game’s biggest accomplishment lies in its ability to create a sense of community. It’s the little things that sell it: the fact that you’re constantly racing against your friends’ Drivatars, the rival system, which encourages you to challenge their Drivatar after every race, the ability to challenge any Drivatar that you come across in the game world on the fly, the unbridled enthusiasm for life and cars that is best exemplified in road trips and car meets.
These things, more than anything else the game accomplishes (and trust me, the list is long), are what makes Forza Horizon 2 the game that it is: a spectacular achievement for Playground Games, and a game that makes you feel like part of a community, even when you’re not playing with anyone; a game that captures the joy of driving, and more importantly, sharing that joy with others. It feels like the kind of game Microsoft has been trying to make for years, one that finds success in its mechanics, but is defined by its community, one less a collection of random players, and more a club of enthusiasts. And in that regard, Playground Games has succeeded admirably.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Incredible environments to race in. A varied list of cars, each of which feels unique. Fantastic selection of music that matches the game’s unique atmosphere. Great handling mechanics. Lots of customization options and extra content. Extensive multiplayer options. Captures the sheer joys of driving.
The perk system is underdeveloped and unnecessary. Sometimes the environments punish you for doing things the game encourages you to do.